As part of an ERDF-funded programme, PrISMS (Practical & Innovative Solutions for Manufacturing Sustainability) programme, the Institute for Manufacturing Education and Consultancy Services (IfM ECS) worked with 120 smaller manufacturers to improve their business strategy and support capability development. The programme enabled IfM ECS to develop business support tools to address firm’s strategic and operational challenges.
Milbank Concrete Products was an organisation to benefit from the programme. IfM ECS worked with the organisation to identify key business priorities and put in a plan of action to address them.
STAGE 1: PRIORITISATION
IfM ECS initially worked with the firm’s board to define the business strategy. It was agreed the strategy should focus on two main areas: on innovation (new products and markets) to boost business growth and reduction in energy consumption.
STAGE 2: INNOVATION
IfM ECS ran a creativity workshop with 11 key staff generating 100 new ideas for products and services. To help with idea generation the team used tools including the Sustainable Product Design Toolkit and the Eco-ideation Tool, which use the principles of sustainability in new product and process innovation. The ideas were distilled to a handful of the most promising through a rigorous selection process. This selection process consists of a methodology that IfM developed and that they called ‘opportunity-feasibility framework’. They were then subjected to a feasibility study using tools and techniques developed at the IfM. These exercises helped the company to identify a shortlist of distinctive products and services, taking account of sustainability from the outset, with four ideas taken forward to the product development stage.
STAGE 3: ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Ecopare, a project partner of IfM ECS in PrISMS, provided specialist advice on energy usage and environmental impact. This helped the firm to substantially reduce its electricity consumption and energy bills – it also inspired a review of practices to further reduce the firm’s environmental impact. This means reviewing and improving existing processes in the manufacturing area.
TOUCH POINT 1: CREATIVE WORKSHOP
Creativity workshop ran by IfM ECS with 11 key staff generating 100 new ideas for products and services. To help with idea generation the team used tools including the Sustainable Product Design Toolkit and the Eco-ideation Tool, which use the principles of sustainability in new product and process innovation.
TOUCH POINT 2: MEETINGS
Meetings with company staff were established to support them in the management of the innovation projects. IfM ECS provided an initial toolkit, which was customised, for the company. The company gave feedback on the use of the toolkit so that IfM ECS could improve it for other user cases.
The main key objectives of the project were, firstly, to define a business strategy with the board, and, secondly, to implement the strategy in order to achieve the objectives.
On the one hand, Milbank Concrete Products measured the success based on key metrics, including revenue generation and cost reduction. On the other hand, IfM ECS measured success based on whether the project delivered on the agreed objectives and whether there were any learning points and enhancements to the tools and approach that could be used to support future projects.
Since, innovation was traditionally management-led, there was not a widespread innovation culture in the company that was a barrier for this open innovation project.
A lightweight innovation management process also needed to be established before the company could reap the benefits of the new innovation ideas and projects that emerged from the engagement.
Milbank Concrete Products now has a more distinctive and compelling portfolio of goods and services (2 new product and a new service were created as a result of the engagement), minimising its risk in the event of a downturn in the housing and construction sectors. Regarding innovation, the company now has a process to generate ideas for products and services that will help it to grow. Support and coaching for staff developed skills in innovation and new product development, fostering a culture of innovation at Milbank and ensuring the process of new product development is sustainable. Besides, concerning energy consumption, Milbank has reviewed its operations and practices to reduce its environmental impact. Changes made after an energy assessment led to a reduction in electricity consumption and bills of 20%.
Other subsequent achievements resulting from the project include, job creation; Milbank has been able to increase staff levels by 5% from 156 jobs to 164 over the course of the project, financial improvements; turnover has increased by 10% per annum and this is forecast to continue in the short term, along with improved profitability, enhanced manufacturing capacity; improvements to the plant and layouts helped to increase manufacturing capacity by 10% and, finally, improved communication; the new user-friendly website offers customers detailed product information, downloads, case studies, online tools and calculators.
Andy Mayne, Managing Director, commented on the project:
“Working with IfM ECS on our strategy and innovation gave us added vision and direction along with creating a platform for our valued staff to broadcast their ideas.
“The full documented review of our energy usage carried out by Ecopare, a project partner in PrISMS, gave us a clear insight into what was needed to reduce our energy usage and, therefore, reduce our costs.
“The benefits of this work also inspired us to pursue and obtain accreditation of ISO 14001:2004, where we reviewed our whole operation and practices to not only save money but reduce further our impact on the environment.”
- Seek external knowledge and advice to improve the business strategy and operations.
- Tackle difficult problems e.g. sustainability, energy use etc. in small managable steps.
- Involve many people within the organisation in changes and improvement projects (not just managers).
- Have a holistic approach in business assessment.
- Provide a clear process and associated action plan for improvements.
- Have an effective method to capture feedback, data and knowledge from the SME to improve future tools and engagements.
- Assume that a “business as usual” mentality can provide a competitive advantage for the long term.
- Assume that the business or sector is unique and external people cannot assist unless they have worked in this sector.